Cars, gadgets on collision course at CES

The line between your car and home entertainment center is getting blurrier by the minute as electronics makers and car companies take to the Consumer Electronics Show 2012 and the concurrent Detroit Auto Show to strut their stuff. Amid the flurry of announcements, one thing is clear: Car makers and their partners think drivers want entertainment at their fingertips. Or better yet, at their spoken command.
The trend caused one pundit to call CES, typically the venue for showcasing the latest smartphones and tablets,  the unlikeliest car show. This week’s dueling events illustrate how web-based software companies are trying to bridge the gap between their fast pace and the more glacial mode of the automotive world. Microsoft (s msft), Google (s goog) and other tech companies are all trying to embed themselves more into the in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) business going forward. In that battle they will not only contend with each other but powerful incumbents like Bosch.
New data shows the trend towards more integrated infotainment electronics in cars will continue.  In a statement, Marcello Tamietti, managing director of Accenture’s Connected Vehicle group, speaking about Accenture research on this topic said:

In-vehicle infotainment systems are quickly becoming part of mass-market car-buying as the latest IVI technologies inside today’s connected vehicle are increasingly as much a determinant of sales as design, fuel efficiency and performance. As consumer desire for IVI capabilities grows, it will be important for automotive manufacturers to seek partnerships that can offer a sustained, seamless IVI experience.”

Read on for a sampling of automotive-gadget news coming out of CES and/or the North American International Automobile show (aka the Detroit Auto Show) on Monday.

OnStar opens up (a bit)

General Motors’ (s GM) OnStar unit is giving select developers access to its proprietary application programming interface (API) and its Advanced Telematics Operating System (ATOM) in a bid to bring more infotainment to the on-board unit. GM claims six million users of its satellite-connected on-board units which are primarily used to summon help in the case of an accident or other emergency. GM offers the service to car buyers free for a few months to try out before initiating a monthly fee. Clearly, the company feels that adding entertainment value is one way to retain more of those tire kickers as paying customers.
The question is whether these partnerships will give GM buyers enough value for subscription costs since many of these capabilities will be available for less money from other sources. After the trial period, OnStar now costs $200 to $300 per year.

Aha wins over Subaru, Honda

Aha Radio, (s har) which aggregates audio channels for mobile consumers, said at CES that its service will be offered with select  2013 Subaru and Honda vehicles.  Currently, the Aha service requires an iPhone cell connection but an Android client is slated for release in the first quarter of this year. Aha also said it has added MOG, Rhapsody and AOL Shoutcast streaming audio to its play list as well as CBS Radio and a selection of audio books. Kenwood will integrate Aha in its next-generation head units. Aha already partners with Pioneer.

Telenav Scout navigates from phone, car, computer

Telenav (s tnav) said its new Scout personal navigator will help you find your destination from your iPhone or in-car system or PC.  Available now for free from the Apple App Store,  Users connect their Scout-equipped iPhone to a compatible vehicle for an experience that mimics a built-in navigation system, the company said. Scout opens to a customizable “My Dashboard” screen that will give them personalized real-time commute times, for example, the company claims.

TI shows off infotainment processors

As expected, Texas Instruments (s txn) is using the show to preview the TI C6000 Jacinto processors and OMAP mobile processors both targeting automotive infotainment applications. The processors claim dedicated 3D graphics accelerators and video co-processors to support HD video playback and streaming. Both chipsets support HTML 5.

QNX shows concept Porsche

Embedded operating system specialist  QNX (s RIMM) will show how it uses Bluetooth and Near Field Communications (NFC) technologies to  ease smartphone integration in a concept car  (a Porsche Carerra no less) and enable voice recognition to control the vehicle’s infotainment system.

Pandora adds Acura, Kia to its automotive BFFs

Streaming audio power Pandora (s p) added Acura, Kia and aftermarket stereo maker AudioVox (s voxx) to its list of partners in the automotive arena, bringing its total there to 16 companies. Pandora claims 125 million registered users of its service overall and as, GigaOM reported previously, is relying on automotive market to bolster revenue.

Canonical makes car bid for Ubuntu

Canonical is trying push its Ubuntu Linux for the IVI and TV markets. At CES, the company will demonstrate Ubuntu “inside” a variety of devices including cars, TVs, tablets and smartphones. Some of the products will use Ubuntu’s cloud synchronization and collaboration service, Ubuntu One, to access to digital content stored on a user’s Linux desktop. Company officials say Ubuntu One is a way to bridge different platforms to get your content wherever you are. This is Canonical’s latest attempt to push Ubuntu Linux beyond the desktop and server markets: Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth this fall said the company would try to entrench Ubuntu in smart phones.

Infotainment is OK, but safety first

Given all this hoopla, it’s interesting that the Accenture study, which surveyed 7,000 people in seven countries, found that while drivers definitely want better communications and infotainment at their disposal, safety was their primary concern. That points out the inherent challenge of in-vehicle entertainment. How safe is it really to update your Facebook status while driving?
A whopping 91 percent of respondents said they would love to see a lane-change, blind-spot warning system in their cars. And, 83 percent said they would like in-vehicle technologies that would automatically call a tow truck when the car breaks down. Nearly three-quarters said theyd’ like technology that would stop their car if the driver suffers a heart attack or other sudden illness. That’s about as far from Angry Birds as you can get.